Monday, April 21, 2008
Jet Set Radioooo!!!
Jet Set Radio, my very first game for the Dreamcast, and even after playing literally hundreds of them, I think it's still my favourite game for the system. It was just so awesome and unique for its time... Hell, it's still awesome and unique today! It represented Sega at its peak of quality and creativity, and like many other great Sega franchises it only had one sequel. You know, because unlike other companies (*cough*Nintendo*cough*), and with the exception of a certain blue hedgehog, Sega is not known for mercilessly milking its franchises to death... (how many different sports did Mario practised already?).
Unfortunately that sequel has been out of my reach for years, since, like many sequels original programmed for the Dreamcast, it ended up being released for the Xbox after Sega officially killed its little white box of awesome. But hey, that's why god invented retro compatibility! Today, thanks to my beloved Xbox 360, I'm finally able to play that hallowed title and man, isn't it fucking great!
The core of the game stays the same. You're still a kid in rollerblades trying to cover a city in graffiti, while avoiding corrupt police officers and clashing with other gangs. What changed is the way you do all this. In the original game you had missions. You enter a zone, have to cover it in graffiti within the given time limit, and you only leave after successfully completing your objective. Now that's all gone. Your garage is no longer just a menu, it's a fully 3D "mini-level" which serves as a hub to reach the city areas, and you can freely go in an out of those areas without any time limit or other constraints. You are free to enter an area, calmly explore it, paint a few tags, even save your game in special spots, and go out without any penalty. Some might argue that this takes away that thrill of being against the clock in the original, but for me this is just great because now you can play at your own rythm, with no stress.
The way the police acts is also different. In the original they would come after you painted a certain number of graffiti, chasing you mercilessly (which in later levels forces us to carefully select which graffiti to paint first, because it's really hard to paint larger ones with tanks behind your tail). Now they only appear at certain spots and when they do, you just have to knock them down and paint their backs for them to run away. Once again, for some people this means no chase=no fun. For me this means no fucking police trying to kill me while I'm busy painting walls, and that's good.
There is one change I don't like, though. In the original, in order to paint the medium and large graffiti you had to move the analog stick according to the directions shown on-screen, kind of simulating the movement of our character, waving its arms in the air while painting the walls. Now you just need to hold down the trigger and move along the area you want to paint, which honestly feels like an unnecessary change and it takes away some of the fun of doing the graffiti.
Graphics wise, the cell-shading of the original game was so freaking awesome that it would be impossible to do much better with the sequel. This is true, but still there are some nice improvements, like gorgeous lighting effects or way bigger areas. Sometimes it looks like they overdid it, though, with areas so full of NPC's the game actually slows down. About this I don't know if it's the game's fault, or it's just the 360 emulator (just because a Xbox game is playable on the 360 it doesn't mean that it'll run flawlessly), but still it's a little annoying. On the plus side of things, as the name implies this game is set after the events of the first one, so be prepared to meet redrawn models of your favourite characters and even some updated versions of well-known areas from the first game. Professor K looks a little too futuristic, though...
But JSR is not only known for great graphics and gameplay, it also had a freaking awesome soundtrack that, to this day, it's still my favourite licensed game soundtrack (the 2nd place belongs to Need for Speed: Underground, great soundtrack that one had...). Featuring a psychedelic mix of rock, hip-hop and techno, it fitted the game perfectly and was even enjoyable by itself. Well, I'm proud to say that JSRF's soundtrack is equally impressive! Once again it's a great mix of various genres, it fits the game perfectly and you'll get so hooked to it you'll immediately consider buying the cd to listen to it while away from the game.
(this review sucks, but at least you can watch more gameplay footage)
Overall, as expected this game is not as ground breaking as the first one, and it's not the perfect sequel either, but it's a really great game and it's well worth the title Jet Set Radio. Fans of the original game owe to themselves to try this one out, for even if this game represents the start of Sega's demise as a respected software-house, it still has some of that magic from the Dreamcast era, something hard to find these days, unfortunately. Also, knowing that so many Sega games are left without follow-ups, we have to be thankful for the mere fact that this one exists.